COUNCIL BLUFFS, Iowa — Polls show more Americans disapprove of President Trump’s job performance than approve of it. The Russia investigation continues apace. Democrats are poised to win the House majority and stymie the administration with investigations — and some are even plotting impeachment.
But to watch Trump storm the campaign trail and yak it up with reporters over the past two weeks is to witness a celebratory president on a spirited, never-ending victory lap.
With the midterm elections just 27 days away, Trump’s ebullient mood is coming through in ways large and small. Slights that ordinarily would have sparked a multiday airing of presidential grievances have largely been ignored. Time-tested gripes about the “rigged witch hunt” and the “biased” Justice Department have been on the back burner.
Instead, Trump has been crowing about all his winning. The confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh despite allegations of sexual assault. The falling unemployment rate. The new trade deal with Canada and Mexico. And, of course, his new ambassador to African Americans: rapper Kanye West, who, after wearing a red “Make America Great Again” cap on NBC’s “Saturday Night Live,” is visiting the White House on Thursday to have lunch with the president.
“America is winning again like never before,” Trump told a thunderous crowd of 9,000 at a Tuesday night rally in Council Bluffs, Iowa. He added, “The only reason to vote Democrat is if you are tired of winning.”
To be sure, it’s all relative with Trump. The president still uses dark, even demonic, imagery to warn of Democratic rule. He casts the opposition party as an “angry left-wing mob” that would destroy businesses and endanger the country. On Tuesday here in Council Bluffs, Trump attacked Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and inspired the crowd to chant, “Lock her up!” And he has called the claims against Kavanaugh a “hoax” perpetrated by “people that are evil.”
Trump still takes swipes at the “fake news.” On Monday in Orlando, the president sought to pit law enforcement officers against journalists by crying “fake news” at the International Association of Chiefs of Police convention.
But the next evening in Iowa, the president’s “fake news” dig came across less as a call to arms and more as a practiced flourish in his stage routine.
Trump has also been making time to field questions from reporters multiple times a day. He invited journalists to his private cabin at the front of Air Force One on Tuesday en route to his Council Bluffs rally to chat for a half-hour. And last Saturday, moments before the Senate voted to confirm Kavanaugh, Trump called a reporter from The Washington Post, unprompted, to boast about his fresh victory.
As a candidate, Trump would tell crowds that if elected, he would win so often that people would be tired of it and say, “Mr. President, we beg you, sir, we don’t want to win anymore!”
But Trump’s supporters have not grown tired yet, at least according to those interviewed inside the roaring Council Bluffs arena. Ed Kaiser, 55, who works in the insurance industry, said he attended the rally to show gratitude for what Trump has accomplished through what Kaiser described as perseverance and brute force.
“He’s on a roll,” Kaiser said, singling out Kavanaugh’s confirmation and economic gains. “I’m amazed. Pleasantly surprised. There’s so much resistance and he’s able to overcome almost everything. He’s truly amazing.”
Marlene Burns, 58, a cake decorator who lives across the Missouri River in the Nebraska town of Papillion, said she has absorbed Trump’s enthusiasm, especially about Kavanaugh, whose denials she said she adamantly believed. But for all the celebrating, Burns said she likes it when Trump airs his grievances — because she shares them.
“He’s very truthful when he’s mad,” Burns said. “He’s not putting on crap like these other politicians. He says it because he means it. That’s like I am. I get riled up and angry because I’m a truthful person and I mean it. He’s truthful like that, too.”
Trump’s fury about the Russia investigation appears to be on holiday. He has been in such a good mood lately that he has made up with the subject of some of his ire, Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein.
Rosenstein oversees special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s Russia investigation, and although Trump has aimed more attacks at Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the president has gone after Rosenstein as representative of what he describes as a corrupt faction of Justice Department officials seeking to undermine his presidency.
Rosenstein offered to resign last month after the New York Times reported that he had discussed recruiting Cabinet members to invoke the 25th Amendment to potentially remove Trump from office. The Times reported that Rosenstein had also suggested surreptitiously recording his private conversations with Trump to see whether the president sought to obstruct justice. Rosenstein denied the report.
Rosenstein traveled with Trump on Monday for the trip to Orlando and they had a 30-minute meeting aboard Air Force One. Speculation was rampant that Trump might confront Rosenstein or make him uncomfortable, even if he stopped short of firing the Justice Department’s No. 2 official. But the president said their visit was nothing of the sort.
“The press wants to know, ‘What did you talk about?’ ” Trump said in his Orlando speech, drawing laughter from the police chiefs. “We had a very good talk, I will say it. That became a very big story, actually, folks. We had a good talk.”
Asked how Trump’s chat with Rosenstein went, one White House adviser who traveled with the two men and spoke on the condition of anonymity to be candid said their conversation was positive, comfortable and substantive.
“BFFs,” the adviser wrote in a text message, using the acronym for best friends forever.
When Trump returned to the White House that afternoon, he seemed please to report back to the press corps, “We actually get along.”
And in a striking turnabout from his frequent claims of a “witch hunt,” Trump went on to express confidence in the Russia investigation.
“I think we’ll be treated very fairly,” Trump told reporters. “Everybody understands there was no collusion. There’s no Russia. It was all made up by the Democrats.”
Trump is especially focused on popular culture and in the past has not taken kindly to criticism from superstars who have a base of devoted fans. So the counterpuncher president might have been expected to strike back at music sensation Taylor Swift after she waded into politics on Sunday.
Swift condemned the policies of Rep. Marsha Blackburn, the Republican nominee for the U.S. Senate in Tennessee and a close Trump ally, whose voting record Swift said “appalls and terrifies me.” She urged her followers to vote for Democrats.
But Trump resisted attacking Swift on his customary medium, Twitter, where she has about 28 million more followers than Trump. The president weighed in only when reporters asked Monday for his response.
“Well, Marsha Blackburn is doing a very good job in Tennessee,” Trump said. “She’s leading now substantially, which she should. She’s a tremendous woman. I’m sure Taylor Swift has nothing — or doesn’t know anything about her.”
He continued, jokingly, “Let’s say that I like Taylor’s music about 25 percent less now. Okay?”
Within the canon of Trump insults, that one counts as magnanimous.